4 Reasons Why Interior Design Exists

living room set

Believe it or not, the interior design profession as we know it hasn’t been around that long.

The first professional decorator accepted payment from a client roughly 120 years ago, but interior design as an industry has evolved a great deal since then.

Hi. Thanks for joining me!

Today we’re going to look at why interior design exists at all. It’s a fair question. To explore this, we’ll look at interior design as is a field of study and also as a profession.

I’ll also cover four of what I think are the biggest reasons that interior design exists and will only continue to thrive.

Reason 1 – Interior Design is a Necessary Specialization of Architecture

man standing near railing in building
While architecture itself is beautiful, interior designers bring the human needs of a space into focus.

Comparison Of Interior Design with the Nursing Profession

Here we’ll be looking at the profession of interior design.

To understand the first reason for why interior design exists in the first place, let’s use a comparative example found in the history of the nursing profession.

You may be aware from your old history class that the nursing profession rose from the practice of medicine which was once performed solely by doctors. It’s hard to believe now, but in the late eighteen hundreds, hospitals employed doctors, but there were no official nurses.

The nursing profession pretty much hadn’t been “invented” yet.

This is true of interior design as well.

Here’s why.

Interior Design Was Once Practiced By Architects

The practice of designing interiors was once the pervue of the architect.

The idea of a dedicated interior design professional came about in the boom years after the second world war, when it became more common place to renovate and refurbish homes.

Another formative factor in the interior design profession was the need for specially trained designers to plan interiors in the retail and commercial spaces.

So just as nurses became established in the field of medicine by recognizing a need and then organizing themselves to fill it, interior decorators and designers, too, sought to fill a need in their field.

Design professionals then began organizing themselves and creating the educational resources and associations that would train the designers of the future.

Designers are innovators and world changers!

Reason 2 – Specialization is More Economical

city man people woman

Differences in Education for Interior Designers vs Architects

Both architects and doctors have to work a long time at becoming full fledged doctors and architects.

Architects study for at least five years and don’t get licensed until they’ve practiced under another licensed architect for several years after that. The entire process can take from seven to nine years, depending on their individual path.

Doctors too, study at least eight years.

On the other hand, nurses and interior designers both specialize in a smaller part of the whole “subject”, and thus can get their education in less time, usually about three to five years.

This opens the door for those who are interested in specializing in interiors to make their mark.

Why Specialization is the Modern Way

As buildings have become more and more complex, the need to specialize within the industry has become more apparent.

Architects still oversee the entire project, but often have many subcontractors. Among these are systems specialists, engineeers, construction companies and, yes, interior design companies, who do the interior fit-outs and stock the the building with human necessities.

For this reason, many large architectural firms have in-house interior design departments. Those that don’t, outsource.

Specialization has allowed humans to prgress. Nurses, as well as interior designers, are happy to be a part of that progress.

The Architecture and Design of Interiors in History

white cathedral hanging with three brown uplight chandelier

Architects fully dominated both the external and internal design of buildings through history. Beyond the skills of the commissioned craftsmen that the architects employed there were few, (if any), interior specialists.  

Yes, before the advent of interior design the interior was served by highly skilled craftsmen who were apprenticed to the architect. In the days of the Italian Renaissance, for example, many stone cutters went on to become architects once they had been practicing long enough to be considered masters.

Historical Architects Were Often Interior Focused First

So instead of narrowing their focus on the interior, aspiring architects worked their way up from interior work to designing whole buildings. They focused very much on order, symmetry and beauty in classical design, and less on the actual livability of spaces.

Architects took great pride in their work, and they designed their buildings down to the fine details, which included the interiors.

It goes without saying that turnaround times on projects were also quite draconian back then.

It is through the legacy of the talented trades-people who crafted the classical interior fittings and decorations that we have come to have many recognized interior design “styles” today.

Reason 3 – Interior Design is a Trusted Partner to Interior Design’s Neighboring Professions

diverse successful businesswomen smiling and walking together in modern workplace

What Do Interior Designers Actually Do?

Some people are confused about what an interior designer actually does.

If you study interior design you’ll realize this is the case the more people you talk to who are outside of the world of design.

-Do interior designers focus on decorating?

-Choose paint colors?

-Design cabinetry?

-Select fittings and appliances?

The answer, in case you were wondering, is: All of these and more.

It’s a reasonable question to ask: Why are interior design specialists needed?

stage with lightings

The way I like to think of it is that interior design fills a gap between where architects leave off (the building’s broader design) and the human needs of a space beg for attention.

Here are some of the questions interior designers will ask:

-How will the space be used?

-What equipment, fittings and furniture will be needed?

-How will it be space planned?

-How will zoning work?

-How will safety protocols be addressed?

-What should the aesthetics of the space be?

-All of these require practical consideration and planning.  

This is the role of interior design.

Interior Designers “Program” Physical Space

If architecture is responsible for giving us a machine for living (and working in!), as Le Corbusier claimed, I’d argue that interior design gives us the program for how to live in it.

Rather than being a mandate, the design of an interior is a result of the collaboration between a designer and the one who the design is made for.

Interior design is planning with careful consideration for all of the aspects in which the inhabitants or users will interact with the building; how and with respect to what.

Enhancing the Function of Space

Interior design ensures that those who use the building are able to interact with it and utilize it properly, down to the fine details. 

Interior design is also concerned with integrating or enhancing the aesthetics of the architectural shell by translation or juxtaposition to improve the experience of the end user. 

Allowing for Greener and More Economical Adaptive Reuse

Interior design professional services are often called on to restore an old or dilapidated space, or to change the interior room divisions and space planning, for example.

Interior design contractors work with specialists to enhance, change or add to architectural interior features (staircases, bathroom features like showers, skylights, windows, doors and lofts, etc.) in the “highest” form of interior design, interior architecture.

It’s widely recognized that converting, renovating and restoring existing buildings is a better alternative to creating entirely new buildings from scratch.

Interior design, like it’s big brother Architecture, is part art and part science.

The Evolution and Expanding Scope of Interior Design

wood animal lizard reptile

Interior design has evolved since its beginnings as a decorating service to the households of high society at the turn of the twentieth century to the well-established and expansive profession that it is today.  

An academically-qualified or properly certified commercial interior designer is, or can be described as, part ‘decorator’ and part ‘interior architect‘. 

An interior design professional may fill many roles in the scope of a single project. These “many hats” include:

  • Surveyor
  • Space planner
  • Conceptual designer/artist
  • Graphic designer
  • Drafts-person (CAD specialist)
  • Furniture, fittings and appliance specifier
  • Project manager
  • Team coordinator
  • Marketing specialist
  • Contract negotiator
  • Contract bidder

Interior Designers are Project Managers

Each of these tasks can theoretically be outsourced to other industry specialists, and sometimes are, however a good way to think of the role of the interior designer is that they are ultimately responsible for the whole vision coming together.

An interior designer must also be trained to do all of these different jobs, often wearing many hats in just one project.

gold and silver round chandelier
If an architect and an interior designer were working together on the Sagrada Familia, where would the responsibilities or scope of work be divided? Some answers are obvious. Some less so.

Interior Design Industry Partners

While we’ve talked a lot about the relationship between architecture and interior design, it’s worth exploring the other industries without which interior design could not exist.

Home goods and furniture

On the boundaries of interior design firms we have home goods and furniture retail, flooring, tiling and painting services, fit-out services and other specialties within the construction industry, such as electricians and plumbers.

Real estate

The real estate industry is closely tied to interior design through staging and renovation for resale.


Construction is major neighboring profession to the practice of inteior design and often the work of architects, designers, engineers and construction professionals meets in areas where their skills overlap. 

Construction companies might have in-house design services and some designers run design-build companies.

potted plants on windowsill in art workshop

Architects Who Design Interiors and Interior Designers Who Architect

Some architectural firms also have in-house interior design departments. 

Some interior design firms work exclusively in the realm of interior architecture.

There have been many architects who design and specify products down the furniture in their projects (Le Corbusier, and Zaha Hadid, for example), but these days, it often makes more sense for architectural offices to have in-house dedicated interior design practitioners or to outsource to interior design specialists.

Quick fact: The average commercial project can take 6-10 months for a design firm and requires the coordination of up to a dozen trades, all while handling permits and construction documentation. 

The management of human resources, including both internal staff and clients by the firm, is also part of the process.

Reason 4 – Interior Design Will Continue to Shape the World

white and blue globe miniature

Interior design is an amazing profession and is responsible for the health, happiness and enjoyment of each of us every day of our lives

From public buildings like libraries and art galleries to exhibitions, restaurants, shops and private homes, the work of interior designers will continue to inspire, nourish and support us as we go about our lives.

Gone are the days that only the richest people hired interior designers.

These days we know that design is important to creating the optimal environments for us to live and work in, and it is becoming less questioned and more a matter of course.

The next time you open up your Instagram feed and see an interior you love, give some thought to the work that goes into creating a beautiful and harmonious space.  

When we factor in the need to change the way we build and live in order to create a better and greener tomorrow, I think you’ll start to see why the work of interior designers matters, today more than ever.  

Don’t forget, too, that there is a whole new exciting world yet to be built in the future of “Web 3”, or what some are calling the metaverse. If that’s not a job for architects and designers, I don’t know what is!

Yes, my Design Baddie friends, that ought to keep all of us busy for a good, long time to come.

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Happy design learning, Baddies!


Designer, writer & educator living in East Asia since 2001

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